It's amazing, but not altogether surprising, that after two Kung Fu Panda movies the series' hero Po is still a disaster. Po may be a kung fu master who saved his village from dastardly villains more than once, but he's still an unorthodox klutz man-child who seemingly destroys everything in his path. Then again, expecting personal growth from an animated character is perhaps a bit too much. Still, it's lazy for Po to begin Kung Fu Panda 3 with many of the same flaws he had in the first two films.
I know Jack Black voices Po, and Black's lovable buffoon screen persona has treated him well through the years, but with Po it's as if there's a rule that he has to start every movie inept in some way, only to overcome the ineptitude by accident in the course of saving the day. In this instance, Po has no idea how to take over training duties when Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) decides to retire. Enter cohorts Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), and Viper (Lucy Liu) for help. Of course, there are bigger issues at hand.
A supernatural villain named Kai (J.K. Simmons) is a bull trapped in the spirit world. He seeks chi, an apparently bottle-able energy that flows through all living things. Kai succeeds in taking Master Oogway's (Randall Duk Kim) chi, and with it he ventures to the mortal world to seek out the chi of other kung fu masters. A collision course with Po is obvious, but not until after Po finds his own chi, which comes from his long-lost father (Bryan Cranston) and scores of other pandas Po didn't know existed.
The 3-D in the latest Kung Fu Panda installment is fine but not necessary, as the action moves so quickly that it isn't necessarily accentuated by the third dimension. However, Hans Zimmer's musical score is catchy, and directors Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh find cuteness in new places, particularly Po's equally childish father and the other pandas they encounter. Cranston, Simmons, and Kate Hudson as a female panda hold their own as newcomers amongst the considerable ensemble. Looking at the cast, it'd be great to see these actors together in a live action film rather than an animated movie in which their skills are restrained by their characters's cartoonishness.
To the filmmakers' credit, the plot to Kung Fu Panda 3 is a natural extension of the franchise's universe, which have earned DreamWorks Animation a combined $380 million at the domestic box office. And like its predecessors it's more silly than funny, which makes sense given its pre-teen target demo.
So as expected, there's not much here for adults. But will those pre-teens like it? The screening I attended was full of youngsters, and the only sound I heard from them was consistent laughter, not chatter. Sounded like an endorsement to me.